Wearsiders asked to have their say on devolution

Sunderland Bridge

People in Sunderland are being asked for their views on devolution ahead of any agreement to sign up to a formal deal.

The Leaders of the councils which make up the North East Combined Authority (NECA) – Durham County Council, Gateshead Council, Newcastle City Council, North Tyneside Council, Northumberland County Council, South Tyneside Council and Sunderland City Council – signed an agreement with the Government in October agreeing to further discussions on devolution.

Although this established the main themes of a potential devolution deal it was not the final agreement. Now Sunderland City Council is asking people what they think before it decides whether to sign up to a formal deal.

The council is sending out a newsletter to every household in the city informing people about devolution and how it could impact on them. This is due to start landing on doormats from today (Monday 1 February) and people have until 17 February to respond with their views online at www.sunderland.gov.uk/devolution or by post to Freepost RTHL-TJHS-TXGA, Sunderland City Council, PO Box 102, Sunderland SR2 7DN.

Council Leader, Councillor Paul Watson, said: “We’ve worked with our partners in the North East Combined Authority to develop a proposed devolution agreement, which we signed with the Government in October.

“But before we make a decision about a devolution deal with the Government, which will require the Combined Authority to be chaired by an elected mayor, it is important that we understand the opinions of local people and any concerns that they have.

“This is a really important decision for the city and residents have a vital role to play in helping us decide where we go from here. So we’d encourage people to take the time to complete the short questionnaire we’ve posted online.”

The North East is among a small number of areas to be offered a devolution deal by the government. Put simply devolution is about moving control over an agreed set of functions away from Central Government to more of a regional level so that decisions can be made and resources allocated in the area they affect.

Among the powers the Government is offering the North East under the devolution agreement are:

– New opportunities to support businesses and create more jobs – including an extra £30m a year over 30 years – to set up an Investment Fund to help business growth.

– Freedom to develop our own plans to improve post-16 education and training so people have better skills and better prospects.

– More decision making powers on transport investment, particularly public transport.

– The freedom to do more to identify opportunities for investment in new housing.

– More say over how money from the European Union is spent in the North East.

– The ability to review health and social care provision and develop plans to improve and integrate services so that people receive better care.

In return for these the Government wants the Combined Authority to revise its current governance and decision making arrangements and establish an elected mayor as the chair.

The Mayor would be elected in 2017 by people living within the area covered by the combined authority and would chair a Cabinet made up of NECA council leaders.

The Cabinet would then make decisions about spending across the area on the issues and functions that come within the Combined Authority’s remit.

Although the proposals offer a limited amount of devolution at the moment, and will not in themselves mean significant changes to the way the constituent councils are run and operated, a deal if agreed, could lead to more devolution in the future.

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